As victims of Hurricane Harvey continue to recover from the storm, they are also being targeted by con artists. Insurance experts are warning those victims of who they work with as they rebuild because scams are on the rise. Assurant Senior Vice President of Property and Casualty Claims Stephen Johnson, "We've heard of stories where contractors collect money or a deposit for work to be done. Never does the work and then disappears." Johnson said Assurant has seen a wide variety of scams; some of them are old ones resurfacing. To protect yourself, Johnson said, “Make sure that your contractor is licensed, bonded, and has references."
Here are some scams Johnson his company is seeing in the wake of Hurricane Harvey:
- Different iterations of adjuster fraud. What generally happens is that someone arrives at a damaged home with what appears to be legitimate credentials and tells the owner that. 1) They’re a claims adjuster that’s been hired by the insurance company. 2) That they’re there to assess damages so the owner can file a claim and quickly receive compensation.
- There are also situations where scammers arrive at a damaged home and tell the owner that their property insurer will not help them, and that to correctly address hurricane claims they’ll need to hire a third party (i.e. the scam artist).
- In some scenarios, the scammers take the homeowner’s private information including insurance policy info and then use it to make false claims. When your company sends its adjuster to your home, that adjuster does not ask you for personal information.
- Another twist on the “your insurer doesn’t want to help you” scenario involves the scammers convincing homeowners to engage in insurance fraud in an attempt to get as much money from the insurance claim as they possibly can.
- One scam Assurant has been seeing more of involves individuals and organizations soliciting relief funds under false pretenses. What’s interesting about this scam is that it’s being targeted to people who were “lucky” and sustained minimal damage, making them more generous and vulnerable to requests to help those less fortunate.
Johnson advises homeowners to do the following to avoid being the victim of a scam:
- Only work with adjusters with whom you’ve scheduled appointments. If you do find yourself dealing with someone who’s shown up at your home claiming to be with the insurance company, check for credentials, ask if they’re licensed and request that they show you both. It’s possible they’re an independent adjuster hired by your insurance company, but before committing to anything, call your insurance company to confirm. You may also want to do a quick Google search to see if their name is associated with any previous scams.
- Be extremely cautious before providing anyone with any personal information and immediately report suspected fraudulent activity related to recovery, cleanup, and false insurance claims.
- Always check out the contractors you work with when doing repairs. Following hurricanes, we often hear stories of contractor fraud including taking advance payment and not doing any work or doing cheaper repairs than contracted for and agreed upon in the estimate. Take the time to look for contractor reviews on social media and get references.
Johnson advises anyone who believes they are a victim of fraud, or mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, to call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll-free at (866) 720-5721.